Boardwalk Empire continued it’s descent into darkness this week, as we watched Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and his team attempt to get back on track. “Blue Bell Boy” solidified the show’s change in vibe by the episode’s closing scenes. I miss “Uncle Nucky,” the guy Jimmy Darmody and Margaret Schroeder used to bring out. Thankfully, we still have Al Capone (Stephen Graham) around to bring a little heart to the grime of the Atlantic City underworld.
The episode opened like this:
Owen (Charlie Cox) got lucky with Katy (Heather Lind). Hey, she spells her name like Katy Perry. Unfortunately, Nucky the Debbie Downer called to ruin his good time and ask him to do something ridiculous, like work. Word has reached AC of Gyp Rosetti’s (Bobby Cannavale) scheme to control the Tabor Heights gas station. It’s the only fuel on the way to New York, and to Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg). Meaning, once winter hits and the back roads are frozen over, Nucky’s men have no way of delivering to their one big buyer. Nucky insisted that they use the backroads even if they aren’t as easy to navigate. The men seemed to look at Owen with more respect than Nucky. Nucky didn’t like that one bit. Apparently, once Nucky made the switch from ultimate party dude to the king of Grouchland, he sucked the fun out of his whole team, too. Also, Nucky hasn’t forgotten about Roland Smith, the man who robbed them of several crates of liquor on the season premiere.
Eli (Shea Whigham) spent the majority of the episode attempting to take things back to “Season 1 Eli” a.k.a. someone people actually enjoyed. The men may not love Nucky like they used to but they treat Eli like an absolute jackass. According to Nucky, sending Eli to jail was the last gift he’ll ever give his brother. Ouch! That was a bitter pill to swallow yet entirely validated. Eli is damaged goods.
The episode also delved into Al’s relationship with hit little son. The boy is getting bullied at school. Al was furious to hear that kids would pick on a deaf boy, until his wife reminded him that their son goes to an all deaf school. Al attempted to teach his son to protect himself.
Things didn’t go so well. In fact, the kid ended up breaking down in tears after Al intimidated the hell out of him. As soon as the boy started to tear up, though, Al broke down, too. It was a truly nice moment in what has become a pretty ruthless show.
After hiring some crooked feds to help track down Roland Smith, Nucky ended up leaving Owen at the thief’s lair while he attended to business. Apparently, Nucky is having more trouble than ever trusting Owen now that he sees how he’s fallen into favor amongst the crew. Nucky asked Owen to call him when Roland arrived. Owen suggested he call him maybe. Nucky didn’t like that at all. Needless to say, when Roland did show up, Owen called. Nucky is scary.
Roland Smith was such a pleasant surprise. He reminded me of a pre-war Jimmy, and this show has needed something of that sort this season. I felt relieved. A clever boy of sixteen (nineteen), he charmed the pants off of Nucky and Owen, even with guns pointed at his face at all times. Nucky seemed to gel a lot more so with Roland than with Owen. Could this end up being a new sidekick for Nucky? Probably not. Once another group of feds arrived, Waxy Gordon’s feds specifically, the trio ended up hiding out in the cellar of the house for a few days. Yes, days.
Owen made it clear that he was not happy about this.
We also got a glimpse of Al at work this week. He playfully suggested to a colleague that he sharpen up and try bathing. That didn’t seem like too much to ask. Al has a way of saying things that makes even calling someone a total smelly slob sound at least slightly complimentary. Just know that Al loves you! Later on, the same guy ended up getting pummeled at a bar after bumping into a rival gang member. Before beating him bloody, the jerk embarrassed him in front of an entire bar for the same things Al warned him about. Another bully for Al to deal with. Luckily for Al’s friend, he had so much pent up frustration surrounding his son’s situation that Al beat the bully to death. Literally, the man died of bludgeoning by bar stool. At least Al paid for his funeral! Bullies suck.
Mickey (Paul Sparks) decided to go behind Nucky’s back in an attempt to secure the safe road to New York. He wasn’t about to risk navigating back roads and wasting time for something as unnecessary as safety. Mickey made it seem like Nucky had asked him to take the ring of power deep into the heart of Mount Doom. Eli advised against this immensely so. Mickey took the opportunity to rag on Eli for being a dope. If Mickey the goon treats you like a dope, then you know you’re low man on the totem pole. Mickey truly thought he would be able to win over the police of Tabor Heights from Rosetti. Not a chance in Hell or Mordor.
Down in the cellar, Roland continued working his charms in an attempt to win over Nucky. It seemed to be working. He always had an answer and he always had a smile on. He even gave Nucky some tips on switching license plates to cover his tracks. Nucky seemed pretty impressed with the teen. He was so anxious to be a gangster! Once the boy fell asleep, though, Nucky got a chance to speak one on one with Owen. After dealing with the Irish/English struggle overseas, Owen is just happy to have a place and a job in America. Thanks to Nucky, he has a little stability. Go figure! He promised Nucky loyalty and respect. What will they do with Roland, though?
Roland: ”No one wants to get killed over a few crates of booze.”
Tell that to Jimmy.
Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) continued her season 3 side story this episode. She and Dr. Wiseass have been working on organizing the women’s educational clinic at the hospital. Apparently, it’s hard to teach a sex ed class without using the term “vagina.” How can you explain the process of menstruation if you can’t say “menstruation”? It’s like sex ed Guesstures. Aunt flow came for a visit? That could work. Afterwards, Margaret meandered the boardwalk handing out advertisements and coincidentally ran into the woman who miscarried on the premiere. It seemed fitting to invite her to the class until her husband suggested that a miscarriage was a sign from God. Yeesh!
Lucky (Vincent Piazza) also popped up this episode. It was time for him to meet with Joe Masseria. Apparently, he and Masseria have more history than we realized. He watched Lucky grow up and start losing respect. He claimed Rothstein’s men, the Jews, to be nothing but business, whereas his people, Lucky’s people, have heart. Still negotiating deals, the seeds have been planted for Lucky to switch teams.
For the first time ever, Rothstein looked like he was about to lose his cool this week during a phone call with Mickey. That was almost anger, right? Desperate for booze, he demanded it arrive as soon as possible. Mickey obliged happily, convinced he could out maneuver Rosetti. Eli, in the mean time, had done his digging, uncovering the double crossing that nipped Mickey’s plan in the butt. No one respects Eli anymore, so they ended up driving right into an ambush at the gas station after ignoring his warning.
I have to say, I saw it coming but I was disappointed. After spending days in hiding together, Nucky covertly killed Roland Smith, laying old-Nucky to rest once and for all. As it turns out, this episode was more about building a relationship and bond between Nucky and Owen than one between Nucky and a new Jimmy. Having said that, and understanding why the show realistically made this move, I really do believe the boy could have brought a little light into the show this season.
The episode closed with Al Capone playing guitar and singing to his son, who affectionately “listened” by feeling the vibrations coming from Al’s throat. What a great moment. Margaret was sad to hear that her hero, the female pilot, crashed and burned. Eli cornered Nucky on the boardwalk post-shootings for a last attempt at a talk.
What did you all think of the episode? Did you enjoy Roland Smith while he lasted? Are you glad that Al is still around to bring some gangster heart to the show? What are your thoughts on Margaret’s storyline? (I’m over it.) Are you excited to see Nucky develop as a mentor to Owen?